By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine needs to apologize.
Locked in a tight battle for re-election, Corzine, who over the last four years has presided over the disintegration of New Jersey's once robust economy, is telling voters his principal opponent, Republican Chris Christie, is unworthy of the state's highest office because he is too fat.
In a new attack ad the Corzine campaign began airing this week, Christie is shown in slow-motion, emerging from a sport utility vehicle as the announcer talks about how the former U.S. attorney once "threw his weight around" to avoid some traffic tickets.
Whether or not there is any truth to the underlying charge—and Corzine has his own problems where traffic law infractions, speeding, not wearing a seat belt and, for that matter, personal ethics are concerned—the ad clearly pokes at Christie's waistline as though that somehow disqualifies him to be New Jersey's next governor.
In Jon Corzine's New Jersey, the property taxes are the highest in the nation. The state is nearly bankrupt. Close to 50 elected officials of both parties we recently arrested as the result of a corruption probe. And Corzine himself has yet to explain how the actions he took while a Wall Street high flier as co-CEO of Goldman Sachs failed to contribute to the recent financial crisis.
Rather than address all or any of those things, or present a reasonable case to the voters as to why he deserves another four years in office, Corzine is asking them to choose between the fat guy and the thin(ner) guy.
In campaigns there are contrast ads—which reporters and good government activists like to call "negative ads" and which often work—and there is the truly abysmal. What Corzine has put on the air is the latter and, although the New York Times may want to explain that, while in bad taste it may be working, the fact is that these kinds of personal rather than political attacks usually leave the politician who made them with a face full of egg.
Back in 1998, while seeking a fourth term in the U.S. Senate, Republican Al D'Amato held a narrow lead over Democrat Chuck Schumer until D'Amato was caught making fun of New York Rep. Jerry Nadler's weight and, when caught, being less than honest about what he had said. Poking fun at Nadler who, according to press reporters he called "Waddler," helped put D'Amato in the unemployment line.
In 2006, the United States Senate race in Virginia turned largely on a single word, "Macaca," used by Republican George Allen to describe a volunteer his Democrat opponent, former U.S. Navy Secretary James Webb, had following him around the state with a video camera. The Washington Post, without any help from the Webb campaign, made the race almost entirely about the Allen's use of the word even if—as it briefly admitted on its editorial page—it was not exactly sure what either the word or Allen meant. It was enough that it sounded bad.
Webb defeated Allen by a narrow margin.
Just last week, Democrats in Virginia called out Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell because one of his key supporters, billionaire BET cofounder Sheila Johnson, made fun of the stammer sometimes exhibited by McDonnell's opponent, Democrat Creigh Deeds.
Attacks about an opponent's weight or speech impediment or ethnicity are inappropriate in a grade school campaign for class president; in a gubernatorial campaign they are reason to ask serious questions about a candidate's judgment.
By the way, Johnson did the honorable thing and apologized. Will Corzine?